HomeFootballScott FootballOpinion | What did Fulton prove with last touchdown? Not much.

Opinion | What did Fulton prove with last touchdown? Not much.

“The days of chivalry in football are about gone.” 

That’s how Harris Keeton described it just before Fulton ran for a touchdown on the final play of the Falcons’ 48-14 win over Scott High Friday evening.

For a second consecutive week, Scott High saw an opponent score a touchdown on the final play of a game that had long since been decided. In football slang, it’s called R.U.T.S. — Running Up The Score — and it was in full force during both the Highlanders’ game against Clay County and against Fulton.

The Clay County game was a little easier to understand. It was a chippy game all night. The Highlanders were called for a personal foul before the ball had ever been snapped, and had eight personal fouls called against them in the first half. The Bulldogs used a time out to make sure they could score one final touchdown in a 47-7 game. 

That’s not a defense of what Clay County did. As I wrote last week, it reflected poorly on Clay County head coach Bruce Lamb. Regardless of what the circumstances are on the field, someone has to step up and be an adult. Running up the score didn’t hurt anyone but the kids wearing the white jerseys on the other side of the field, and if a middle-aged adult feels the need to exact some sort of vengeance or make a statement on a group of kids, he’s probably not the kind of person who should be leading and influencing kids.

The Fulton decision was a head-scratcher. Friday’s game in Knoxville had been competitive for far longer than the previous week’s game in Celina. It wasn’t until late in the third quarter that the Falcons put the game away. 

But by the time the final minutes were ticking away, Fulton was up 42-14 and the game was well in hand. Fulton threw a pass late to move the ball to the five-yard-line. At that point, they didn’t even need to take a knee. The Falcons could simply have let time run out, as there was more time on the play clock than on the game clock. Instead, Fulton threw a pass for the end zone with under 10 seconds remaining, then scored a touchdown on the game’s final play.

Scott County Director of Schools Bill Hall was’t happy, and for good reason.

“I’m questioning myself why you would throw it with four seconds left, and line up and run it with time running down,” Hall said immediately after the game. “It’s called sportsmanship and it starts at the top. I’ll leave it there.”

So here we are, for a second consecutive week. I don’t like questioning a coach’s sportsmanship for a second straight week any more than you like reading it. I’m well aware of the labels that are attached to people who are always finding something to complain about. But, sadly, these incidents appear to be becoming the norm. 

For the record, the folks who travel with Scott High are treated better by the administration at Fulton than anywhere we go. The Scott High broadcasting crew is always welcomed with open arms by Fulton athletics director Jody Wright and current head coach (now co-athletics director) Rob Black.

But it wasn’t those folks calling the shots down on the sideline in the final 60 seconds of Friday’s game.

It’s hard to imagine that Black, who spent 11 seasons as a head coach at Fulton before stepping down earlier this year, would’ve ever pulled a stunt like the one we saw Friday. He certainly had opportunities, defeating the Highlanders 55-0 in 2014 and 49-0 last year.

Last year, for example, Black pulled his starters after one possession in the third quarter. The Falcons did score a touchdown in the fourth quarter, but it was with their reserves in the game — and they weren’t throwing the ball, not even on 4th and 21 (a play that saw the ballcarrier break free for the Falcons’ final score). 

But first-year head coach Jeff McMillan, a retired educator who was hired to replace Black, is apparently cut from a different cloth. His starters were still in the game all the way to the final play; the only change was a switch at quarterback, to move the starting QB to wide receiver in an apparent effort to get him a receiving touchdown. He was targeted twice on passes in the final minute of the game.

Fulton was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct on three of its touchdowns — and could’ve been called for two more, since the Falcons did the same thing on those two scores — after excessive celebration. It was a weird look, but not really any of Scott High’s concern. 

The garbage touchdown at the end, however, was a different story. What exactly was McMillan accomplishing by tacking on another score at the end? It would’ve been understandable if he had younger players in the game getting some reps, but the younger players were all on the sideline. Instead, the Falcons were simply scoring style points against a Scott High team that had already been beaten. 

There are always those who will defend R.U.T.S. by saying, “If you don’t want them to score, stop them.” That’s true to a point. But it’s really only a defense when second- and third-string players are in the game and still scoring. By the end of the fourth quarter, it had already been established that Scott couldn’t stop Fulton — not at that point, with the Highlanders’ lack of depth and fatigue having set in — which is precisely why most coaches choose to pull back on the reigns in that situation.

I was reminded of a few years ago, when the late Keith Henry had an opportunity to tack on another score against Oneida. His team was up 21-10 and driving inside the Indians’ 10-yard-line as the final seconds ticked away. No one would’ve faulted him much if he had punched it on in. Coalfield-Oneida is a big rivalry game, the whole reason Henry was coaching at Coalfield is because of the situation that had played out at Oneida when he was coaching there in 2004, and the Yellow Jackets were up less than two scores to boot.

Instead of scoring, Henry chose to take a knee, letting the clock run out on a 21-10 victory.

Likewise, Henry’s opponent on the other side of the field, Tony Lambert, was always the quickest to call off the dogs when his team built an insurmountable lead in the second half. During his head coaching days, Lambert — who is now defensive coordinator at Anderson County — was never accused of R.U.T.S. Nor has his successor, Jimmy May.

In a different sport, Scott High soccer coach Eric Henry is usually the first to pull his players when the lead becomes insurmountable. Sometimes, when an opponent is at a decided disadvantage, Henry has switched up his lineup before the game has even begun — giving defensive players an opportunity to score goals, for example. He has often said that if a team is going to drive an hour to play a game, it might as well be a game that goes all 80 minutes (soccer games are called early if one team leads by nine goals). 

There are no written rules for when a team should take its foot off the gas, of course. In fact, there are no rules that say a team has to take its foot off the gas at all. There have been plenty of instances where a team refused to pull back on the reigns — such as when Coach Jack Diggs’ Huntsville team put up more than 100 points on Sunbright back in the 1960s, for example.

But, clearly, it seems that throwing the football into the end zone with under a minute to play in a 42-14 game, or taking another snap instead of just letting the clock run out inside the 10-yard-line, is a violation of coaching etiquette. 

To understand why the “if you don’t want them to score, stop them” defense doesn’t apply to Friday’s game, you have to understand the predicament the Highlanders were in. Scott High dresses fewer than 50 players to start with. While numbers are up this year vs. last year, the Highlanders still don’t have nearly enough depth for most of the Class 4A teams they face. 

And in Friday’s game, Scott was without nine starters due to injury, sickness, or other reasons. Some had been out for a while; some were missing their first game. But it was a severely short-handed Scott High team, one that was fielding several freshmen and sophomores who were seeing their first major varsity experience. That short-handed team stood toe-to-toe with Region 2-4A’s second-best team for a while, performing admirably until they simply ran out of gas in the second half. 

It’s a Scott team that hasn’t won a game on the field in more than two years, and is clearly entrenched in a lengthy rebuilding process, battling against a lot of odds. To choose to rub the faces of those kids in their defeat was, frankly, in poor taste.

As Hall put it: “Our kids fought hard here tonight, and they didn’t deserve that.”

Ben Garrett
Ben Garrett
Ben Garrett is Independent Herald editor and publisher. Follow him on Twitter, @benwgarrett, or email him at bgarrett at ihoneida dot com.

The latest